Horse attacks: Owners in France warned against vigilantism

Gendarmerie have called on horse owners in France “not to take justice into their own hands”, even as another horse is killed, and police warn that they believe the attacks to be by “more than one perpetrator”.

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The warning comes after a group of horse owners with guns in Finistère (Brittany) were reported to have approached two women who they believed could be linked to the horse mutilations and killings.

The women said that they were returning home from work in a car when they were accosted by a group of armed horse owners, who demanded to know what they were doing, and possibly suspected them of being involved in the horse killings. The women denied this and later made a formal police complaint.

Colonel Nicolas Duvinage, group commander at the Finistère gendarmerie, said: “Emotions are high among owners, that is understandable; and it is understandable that they want to get together to keep watch over their animals.

“However, this organisation cannot lead to checking vehicles on a public road. That is illegal, and only permitted by law enforcement officers.”

Investigations into at least two of the four horse owners involved in the “checks” are underway, with their trial set to conclude today (Thursday September 3) in Quimper.

Mystery horse attacks

More than 30 horses across France have now been reported to have been injured or killed in the macabre attacks, the motives for which police have said are still a mystery.

Read more: More than 30 horse mutilation cases reported in France

Yet another mare was reported as being found mutilated and killed yesterday (September 2), with the attack happening overnight in Morbihan (Brittany).

The 11-year-old mare was found dead with an ear and her genitals mutilated, at the Tro Coet riding school in Saint-Tugdual. Gendarmerie in Pontivy consulted a specialist vet in the area and have opened an inquiry into “acts of serious and grave cruelty towards a domestic, tamed or captive animal”, and “violation of a home address by force”.

The punishment for these acts includes up to two years’ imprisonment and fines, and one year imprisonment and extra fines, respectively.

More than one attacker

Gendarmerie have also said that they believe the attacks - which have been committed across much of France - are being undertaken by more than one perpetrator, with attackers appearing to have some specialist knowledge of horse anatomy.

Read more: Map: More horse attacks in France, see areas targeted

Colonel Hubert Percie du Sert, coordinator of the gendarmerie's judicial police force, told the Agence France-Presse: “There are around 20 cases of cut ears, but also other attacks, such as mutilated genitals, and lacerations made with sharp objects [suggesting] more than one perpetrator and operating style”.

The colonel said that due to a rise in awareness among horse owners, attackers should find it “more difficult” to carry out future crimes.

Police are still open to all possibilities of motive, including a possible internet challenge, sectarian influences, satanic rites, a group of “horse haters”, or even a series of copycat attacks sparked by the first incidents.

Do not play vigilante, gendarmerie warn

Rather than arming themselves and playing “vigilante”, horse owners are instead invited to install cameras on their property, and to check on their animals more frequently than normal. Any suspicious activity should be reported immediately to the local gendarmerie.

Colonel Duvinage, in Finistère, reiterated: “We cannot take justice into our own hands. I remind you that legitimate defence is valid if someone is attacking humans, but not horses. If an owner punches someone, or worse, shoots an individual, they would be liable to a judicial process.

“That has already happened, for example, to shopkeepers who shot at some burglars. Above all, you must [instead] call number 17 [for the gendarmerie].”

But one horse owner and farmer in Rennes, who wanted to stay anonymous, told news source France 3 Bretagne that she is not taking any chances, and is now bringing her three horses into her garden at night.

She said: “Do you think this is OK? We have had enough! I am not afraid to tell you that my gun is loaded, and I will not hesitate to shoot it if I need to. Not [directly] at people, but I will not hesitate to fire it.

“And if tomorrow, someone injures or kills one of these individuals [doing the attacks], I would not be surprised. Someone has to defend the horses.”

The owner said she was sceptical of the advice to call the gendarmerie in case of any suspicious individuals.

She claimed: “They don’t come. We even had a case of a person who came across two men in his field, but the gendarmerie let them go because they hadn’t done anything yet. I called the gendarmerie this morning after there was an intruder at my neighbour’s property, and they did nothing.

“But when dairy farmers have issues with their animals, then, in contrast, we get told off.”

Colonel Duvinage remained firm, and again repeated the advice to report anything suspicious to the gendarmerie, who can then add the information to their wider investigation. He also warned owners to be alert to false rumours - such as suspect vehicle number plates - circulating online.

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